Putin foe Navalny challenges Sobyanin in mayoral election

Putin foe Navalny challenges Sobyanin in mayoral election

Putin foe Navalny challenges Sobyanin in mayoral election

Navalny, a top critic of President Putin, holds his ballot at a polling station during a mayoral election in Moscow. AFP photo

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny faced off against a Kremlin ally on Sept. 8 in a Moscow mayoral election with high stakes for both President Vladimir Putin and his foes.

The contest to head Russia’s capital will help shape Putin’s six-year third term and the fortunes of two politicians who could play bigger roles in the future. For underdog Navalny, 37, an anti-corruption campaigner who emerged from a wave of street protests as the driving force of opposition to Putin’s 13-year rule, the vote is a chance to show many Russians want change and he is the man to make it happen. It pits him against Sergei Sobyanin, a former Putin administration chief who was appointed to a five-year term by the Kremlin in 2010 but called an early election to bolster his legitimacy and strengthen his position.

Many political analysts say the Kremlin wanted Navalny to run because it expected him to be humiliated and believed this would wipe out any political threat from a critic who has presidential ambitions.

But while opinion polls have shown Navalny has little or no chance of winning, his lively campaign has revived some of the enthusiasm of a flagging protest movement and may have rattled the Kremlin.

Navalny and Sobyanin are among six candidates fighting for the ballots of nearly 7.2 million registered voters in Russia’s biggest and wealthiest city, its main financial center and the seat of most big Russian companies.

Moscow accounts for more than a fifth of Russia’s economy and the race is the most prestigious of some 7,000 regional and local elections taking place in the country yesterday.